City claims foul play on duck feeding rules with new duck patrol signs costing $2,000

palo alto duck pondFeeding bread to ducks may be a time-honored tradition for some, but it could soon become a crime that would cost violators in Palo Alto up to $250.

On Tuesday, Palo Alto’s Parks and Recreation Commission will consider a new law aimed at protecting wildlife in Parks and open spaces.

Feeding has caused Palo Alto’s waterfowl to become sick, more competitive and stressed-out, according to a report by Darren Anderson of the cities Community Services Department.

“There’s definitive evidence that feeding the ducks makes for an unnatural habitat. Too many congregate and it leads to disease for the animals. It’s not in the best interest of the animals,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Abbie Knopper said yesterday.

Killing them with kindness

Rangers at the city’s Baylands Duck Pond, one of the major attractions of Baylands Natural Preserve, have been trying to get people to stop feeding the ducks for years.

They have handed out flyers with pictures of humans feeding ducks that say “you are killing us with kindness,” educated kids, talked to park-goers, and mounted signs in English and Spanish but to no avail.

“The Rangers have done a tremendous job trying to enforce the policy, but I think that we do need an ordinance,” Knopper said.

Anderson said feeding ducks, geese and squirrels at the pond was common practice until the1960’s when people who work with wildlife observe the problems it creates.

When people feed ducks and geese bread, it changes their diet and often makes them crowd into one area and become competitive about food. Ducks eat insects, seeds, plants and mollusks from marshy or grassy areas.

But when they eat bread or corn seed from the ground in one smaller area, they’re more likely to eat waste-contaminated food, which increases the chances of spreading disease.

Aggressive squirrels

aggressive squirrelsFeeding can also attract birds like crows, ravens, jays and gulls that end up praying on the chicks and unhatched eggs of endangered birds in the Baylands.

Anderson said there have been several complaints about aggressive squirrels and at least one biting incident at Mitchell Park in 2010.

If the commission recommends the new law, it would go to city Council for approval. Launching the new “no feeding” policy will cost the city $2,000 for new signs.

The policy will require rangers to spend more time truly park. But the city hopes those additional hours will be offset by a reduction in the amount of time cleaning bird guano from benches and pathways.

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